There were only about 200 Rau quagga in South Africa… and now we can proudly say there are at least 201!
Western Cape, South Africa (24 January 2023) – Vergelegen wine estate in Somerset West, renowned for its environmental programmes, is celebrating the birth of a young ‘Rau’ quagga, a rare zebra sub-species.
The arrival of the healthy youngster is a milestone in an ambitious project, initiated by a dedicated group of conservationists in 1987, to breed an animal resembling as closely as possible the quagga. This animal was hunted to extinction in the second half of the 19th century and the last known mare died in Amsterdam Zoo in 1883.
The young Vergelegen foal was born on 14 December after a 12-month gestation period. It was left undisturbed to bond with the other seven quagga and its sex has not yet been determined.
“This youngster appears very relaxed and has been accepted as one of the herd,” says Eben Olderwagen, Environmental Project Manager at the 323-year-old estate.
“It has grown about 15cm taller in a month and has been spotted nibbling lucerne, in addition to suckling from its mother.”
Quagga were shorter and stockier than Southern Plains zebras, with a pale brown hide and black markings, unlike the white hide and black markings of other Plains zebras. Quagga usually have stripes on the head, neck and front portion of their bodies only.
The quagga at Vergelegen, introduced from Pampoenvlei in the Atlantis/ Darling area in May last year, are located in a 180-hectare reserve with lush natural grazing, a mix of renosterbos, Boland granite fynbos and various grasses.
Olderwagen says management hopes that this founder herd at Vergelegen will continue to breed and, after about two years, selected quagga will be exchanged with others in the programme. This will prevent in-breeding and reinforce the quest to breed quagga as near as possible to the original species.
Visitors have the opportunity to spot the quagga by booking a place on the estate’s popular guided game drives. These take visitors through the Vergelegen nature reserve, with possible sightings of the estate’s Nguni cattle, bontebok, quagga and five eland. Vergelegen is situated in one of the richest floral regions of the world and in 2018 completed a 14-year, privately funded alien vegetation clearing programme. Some 2200 hectares were cleared, of which 1900 hectares have been declared a nature reserve with the same status as the Kruger National Park.
Management plans to continue introducing historically naturally occurring species at Vergelegen, said Olderwagen.
The quagga breeding programme
The quagga breeding programme breeds selectively from a founder population of Southern Plains zebras in order to retrieve the genes responsible for the quaggas’ characteristic hide pattern and colour. These breeding animals are known as Rau quagga, in memory of Reinhold Rau, who founded the project.
DNA analysis has revealed that the quagga is not a separate zebra species of its own, but is in fact one of several subspecies or local forms of the Southern Plains zebra (Equus quagga). Selective breeding from the founder population of Plains zebra has led to a population visually closer to the original quagga population than any other surviving Plains zebra.